August 19, 2013 12:00 PM

Sometimes even the worst things happen for a reason. Desiree Hartsock, star of The Bachelorette, had fallen hard for Brooks Forester, the former male model she believed was The One out of 25 suitors vying for her hand on the ABC reality show. But when he made it clear he didn’t return her feelings – and a stunned 7.8 million viewers watched her collapse in sobs – “I was blind-sided,” Hartsock, 27, says now. Luckily the dark cloud soon revealed its silver lining. Hartsock realized the man of her dreams had been in front of her all along: mortgage broker Chris Siegfried, 27. “Brooks’s leaving gave me clarity,” she says. “I had been falling in love with Chris.” When he proposed barely one week later, Hartsock wept again—this time, tears of joy. While many viewers cried “rebound,” the giggling couple, so smitten they finish each other’s sentences, are unconcerned about the doubters. “I knew I couldn’t give up,” Hartsock says of her search for love. “I’m so glad I didn’t.”

Let’s go back to the day Brooks said goodbye. Did you feel misled?

DESIREE HARTSOCK: There were so many little things Brooks would do that showed that he wanted to be there in the end. I was confident that our relationship was heading toward a proposal. I never saw it coming.

You told him you loved him.

DESIREE: If someone’s not going to love me, I understand. But I wanted to talk it out, to say, “Okay, this is how I felt for you.” In order to get closure, I couldn’t keep those feelings inside.

How did you bounce back so quickly?

DESIREE: Feelings are very accelerated during this process, and that helped me get over the hurt because I knew I had two amazing men left who did love me. I was able to stay hopeful. I had strong feelings for Chris [all along], and after our date in Antigua, my feelings were solidified.

CHRIS SIEGFRIED: It was hard seeing her so emotional at the rose ceremony.

DESIREE: I remember looking into Chris’s eyes then. I knew he was in my life for a reason and I still had to pursue that. It felt amazing to go on the date with Chris knowing he could be my one and only. And as the date progressed, I knew there is no way I will ever say goodbye to this man.

How do you react to people who say you went with your second choice?

DESIREE: I absolutely did not settle. Brooks’s leaving gave me the opportunity to love Chris more.

On the last day you told Chris about the feelings you had for Brooks.

DESIREE: Chris wasn’t naive to the fact that I had feelings for Brooks, but he didn’t know the extent. I needed to make sure we started our relationship as an engaged couple with honesty.

CHRIS: I was fine with it, really. I didn’t have any doubts. I was just like, “Why are you interrupting me? I’m about to propose!”

Any nerves, Chris?

CHRIS: Honestly, the floorboards were moving because my legs were shaking so much!

DESIREE: He was so nervous.

CHRIS: I was just excited. It felt right, like it was supposed to happen.

Chris, how did you keep from feeling threatened or competitive with Brooks while he was still in the race?

CHRIS: I’m not really drawn to drama. I just did a really good job compartmentalizing. I couldn’t control how Brooks’s feelings were developing. I could just control what Des and I were sharing together.

How did you keep a connection going with all of the other guys around?

DESIREE: One thing I loved about Chris from the beginning is that during the rose ceremonies, which can be so nerve-racking, he would give me a little smile like, “I’m with you; I care.” He was the only one who did that.

CHRIS: We had a great banter off-camera that people don’t get to see.

DESIREE: He gets my jokes, even if they make no sense!

Have you been watching the episodes together?

DESIREE: No. I’ve watched them first. If he doesn’t need to watch them, he won’t.

CHRIS: We’ve built a lot since, so there’s no reason to go backward or harbor any old feelings.

Why do you two think you’ll last when many others haven’t?

DESIREE: From the first time we were alone together, it was just easy.

CHRIS: If there was a silent moment, it wasn’t awkward. Which is weird, because I’m usually pretty awkward!

Tell us about your wedding plans.

DESIREE: I’m all over the place! It’s gone from destination to small chapel to winery. But we don’t need to wait. I could marry Chris tomorrow!

CHRIS: We’ve talked about next June. And I think we’d write our own vows.

DESIREE: But probably not in poetry!

Where will you live?

DESIREE: I’m moving to Seattle next week.

CHRIS: We got a new place together. She picked it out on Craigslist.

How does it feel now to finally be out in the open?

DESIREE: I can’t even express how good it feels. Finding Chris was everything I’ve ever wanted.

CHRIS: I feel really calm. Des is The One.

DESIREE: I know we’ll have naysayers, and that’s hard. But all I can say is it’s real and it’s going to last.

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